On March 22, Tucson Unified School District attorney, Todd Jaeger was notified by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office that the District had once again been hit with an Open Meeting Law violation. The complaint, filed by education activist Richard Hernandez, centered around the actions of Board members Kristel Foster, Adelita Grijalva, and Mark Stegeman.
The District has been the subject of multiple Open Meeting Law violation complaints, and just recently the Board was forced to undergo training on the subject as part of a settlement agreement with the Attorney General’s Office.
In his correspondence with the Attorney General’s Office, Hernandez suggested that because the training and the multiple complaints have not corrected the Board’s behavior, it would appear that the only way to stop the illegal activity is to impose “severe and immediate consequences.” Foster, Grijalva, and Cam Juarez were the Board members named as violating Open Meeting laws which resulted in the Attorney General requiring the Governing Board to undergo Open Meeting law training. Training did take place.
At issue was a bizarre incident in which Foster and Grijalva ambushed Stegeman at his attorney’s office. Foster admitted to violating Arizona’s Open Meeting laws when she and Grijalva managed to “meet” Stegeman at his own lawyer’s office. Stegeman was at the attorney’s office at the request of former superintendent, H.T. Sanchez.
Sanchez did not show, but in violation of an Open Meeting Law provision that requires a public notice be issued any time a quorum is reached, Foster and Grijalva showed up and arranged to have the media with them. During Grijalva’s tenure as Board president, TUSD awarded a $750,000 contract to KVOA. Sanchez then hired Stephanie Boe, who was then an executive director at the station, as the District’s communications director.
The ambush-style confrontation outraged even those who have been mildly supportive of Sanchez, Foster, and Grijalva.
A video shows that Stegeman arrived at the attorney’s office and was greeted by Grijalva, Foster and a KOLD reporter and cameraman. While the audio quality is poor, it is clear that Grijalva is emotional as she confronts Stegeman. Grijalva asks Stegeman where he got the authority to negotiate with Sanchez referring to an agenda item scheduled for Tuesday’s Governing Board meeting.
Because three members, according to Foster, had formed a quorum, any discussion of an action item on an upcoming agenda would be a clear violation of Open Meeting laws. Although Foster admitted that the group had formed a quorum, she denied it was a meeting. Unfortunately for Foster, Grijalva did continue to try to engage Stegeman in a conversation of the pending agenda item, which on its face is a violation of the spirit of the law.
Because Arizona’s Open Meeting law requires that any time a quorum is formed the public must be notified in advance, the District has notified the public when 2 or more Board members have attend various awards ceremonies and other public events. In light of past practices, and the fact that Grijalva and Foster knew they would be forming a quorum, it is not understandable why they failed to post a notice of their intent.
The bizarre encounter was first exposed in an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star. In that piece, Grijalva claimed that Stegeman was “without any board approval, is trying to negotiate terms of settlement. He doesn’t have any authority.”
Stegeman clearly told Grijalva that he knew he didn’t have the authority and was not trying to usurp it. Stegeman told the Star, “I’m not empowered to negotiate on behalf of the board. I’m just having a conversation.”
Foster told the ADI via email that she did not “communicate with Ms. Grijalva that this meeting was going to occur.”
Given that Stegeman and Sedgwick have had rocky relations with Sanchez, Grijalva, and Foster, it is unlikely that either of them informed Foster of the meeting. Given the fact that Hicks did not know when or where the meeting would occur, that leaves only Sanchez, as the source for Foster.
After the odd encounter, Stegeman wrote to constituents, “I have never refused a superintendent’s request for a meeting and am unlikely to do so. I think it would be discourteous (and represent poor governance) to refuse such a request. I am disappointed that, in this case, my good faith response produced this outcome.”
Hernandez notified Stegeman, an independent who had been vilified for his attempts to clean-up corruption in the District, of his complaint by email. He wrote, “Doing what is right more often than not is not politically correct. I assure you that I have been the subject of that wrath by both Demo & Republican parties. I don’t care I will advocate for what I believe is in the best interest/ para nuestra pueblo / people.”
TUSD parent and education activist, Betts Putnam Hidalgo stated, “This ambush was an amazing example of how far sore losers will go to distract public attention from the things that they should be focused on: student achievement, classroom funding, desegregation, etc. Once again we are all following the intrigues of the new minority members, instead of the benefits that the new board, all working together, COULD bring to the students. With the paucity of news coverage of TUSD, how many column inches are dedicated to ambushes, set-ups and character assassination of the newest Board member? Imagine a Board that tries to establish a respectful relationship and works together on the things they can that will benefit students? Is that really too mature a scenario for TUSD?”